Originally published in Pocket Magazine, (December 2004)
Entrepreneur Todd McFarlane has revolutionized the toy business. It was only a part of his master plan to have is his vision infiltrate the related worlds of motion pictures, television, and comic books, his first conquest. In October, McFarlane was on-hand to meet and greet literally thousands of his dedicated fans at the grand opening of his first retail store, aptly named McFarlane Toys. Calling it a store may be a little misleading, since this is not your typical toy store. It is more of a showcase of the intellectual properties and accomplishments from the creative mind of McFarlane. Custom-built sets boasting prototypes of upcoming action-figure lines fill the space along with movie memorabilia, framed posters, and a case full of impressive awards (including three Emmys) rivaling the Hard Rock Café’s showcases of artifacts from the music world.
Any young artist would aspire to achieve the level of Todd McFarlane’s “humble” beginnings as an illustrator for Marvel Comics. To be one of the chosen artists for a Spiderman comic book is a goal that very few will ever achieve. According to his biography on the www.spawn.com website, “Spider-Man #1 shipped to stores in September 1990 and became the best-selling comic book of all time, selling more than 2.5 million copies”. But this wasn’t to be the final destination for the visionary McFarlane. He set his sights on more creative control of his work and the creation of his own character. He took a long shot and left Marvel to make it a reality.
His brainchild, Spawn, has since become a legend. This anchor character for his new comic book company, Image Comics, traveled from the pages of countless comic issues on it’s way to a major motion picture and a critically acclaimed animated series for HBO. Spawn is a unique superhero that has come back from Hell after making a deal with the devil. His costume is alive and able to morph into everything from spikes and chains to a forty-foot cape and armor, but ironically he ends up favoring the side of good due to his strong morals
The Spawn character is what made it possible to delve into the toy business with total credibility. The success of the triple threat of comics, film, and TV made the Spawn action figure a hot seller for kids looking for the superhero of their generation and for adults keeping in touch with the evolution of superheroes. The sci-fi and horror crowds were the first to latch on to Todd’s growing empire, but that was, again, just the beginning.
McFarlane Toys entered into agreements with pop-culture celebrities distant from the pages of comic books. From the music entertainment business, some of the most renown figurines produced were the members of the self-proclaimed “hottest band in the land”, KISS. Others followed and included Hendrix, Elvis, and the most recent edition, Mötley Crüe. Not to leave sports fans out in the cold, McFarlane Toys ventured into the mass hysteria surrounding NASCAR, Major League Baseball, National League Football, and one of McFarlane’s vested interests, National League Hockey. The new store, located at the far southwest corner of Tempe, Arizona, contains museum quality displays that are made-to-scale replicas of the respective fields of play for each of the sports toys.
Other displays include the Terminator, Shrek, Alien vs Predator, Conan the Barbarian, and of course a fair share of space dedicated to the character that ignited it all: Spawn.
The store maintains normal business hours for fans wanting to come and browse around without having to spend a dime for an entrance fee. Chances are, though, that you’ll be inclined to want to invest in history-in-the-making and own a part of the McFarlane experience. Stay tuned to see what’s next from the mind Todd McFarlane.
Greenawalt is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ.